Have you ever really wondered how much effort and thought goes into checking a magazine or newspaper article? In this article, Peter Canby explains how a news paper company is run and how they deal with errors in the articles they have either published or are in the process of publishing them. First let’s start off with a clarification that “errors” in an article are not limited to grammar mistakes. Errors also cover the category of factually correct statements along with “The Talk of the Town,” and pretty much everything else that is included in the article. Everything gets double and triple checked. Canby goes on to tell the reader how things are run in the newspaper and magazine industry.
In the older days, more specifically when Canby first started working for The New Yorker, things used to progress in a linear pattern sort of way. The New Yorker was run by the editor, William Shawn. The writers would work on their articles for as long as they deemed necessary which would more than likely take a few years. After that these articles were edited and fact-checked for about two weeks or more, and then eventually published. Canby believes that it was this manner of publication that led The New Yorker to produce many successful and wonderful writings. I believe that he was absolutely correct in his hypothesis. It is to my belief that the reason these articles would have been more successful and wonderful than later articles was because the writers devoted themselves to the story. Unlike now where Canby explains that writers are treated more like servants where their assignments are already predetermined instead of choosing the topic themselves. In that Shawn era I believe that it was this process of choosing an article that made it more personal for the writer and thus made the article more interesting to read.
Canby goes more in depth to two specific stories he remembers during the Shawn-era New Yorker. The first being a story where the writer, Neil Sheehan, followed the life and story of John Paul Vann who was an army officer who readily talked to the press about military matters. The military eventually disgracefully discharged Vann to try and quiet his ill tempered remarks. However Vann used this to become third in command of the Vietnam War. Anyway Sheehan had been working with Vann on the book about him for roughly 16 year and he took his work to such a personal and devoted level that he made no mistakes in his work. When he would bring his finished article to the fact-checker they would come back to him with no changes in the entire piece. The second piece Canby recalls is like many others. It was a factual piece about a woman who was disinherited by her oldest brother when their parents died. Because it was a factual piece Shawn decided to put it on the back burner and there it stayed for the next twenty years.
When Shawn was replaced by Tina Brown as editor of The New Yorker the rate of production was altered. Brown had her writers working on articles that she determined herself in such a way that it would take only a week at most to get the story written and published. Fact checkers would work all night just to finish up their work so that the article could be published later that week.
Canby finishes his article with the methods in which checkers go about checking an article. First and foremost calling sources and going over the content of their quote without repeating the quote itself. This is because sources more often then not try to change the quote itself which is a huge hassle that can be easily avoided. Next writers were eventually asked to hand in their own personal notes about the topic at hand because when a fact checker is going through the article and hits a dead end, they can always refer back to the notes as a sort of safety net. Also eventually the note taking process became outdated as tape recorders were introduced. It seems to me that the fact-checker doesn’t get nearly enough credit as they deserve for their hard work on the final product of the article.
On a side note, I don’t know if this was done on purpose to be a funny joke but at the bottom of the article there is a correction to the article. Meaning that a fact-checker would have missed something and it had to be fixed after it was published.